Born in Norway and now based in Stockholm, prolific songstress Ane Brun isn’t shy about using her music—wintry, tender, string-wrapped—to address her environmental and political concerns. Last fall, she orchestrated the No More Lullabies benefit concert, drawing together such Swedish luminaries as Robyn, Lonely Dear and The Tiny to raise awareness of global warming before the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen. Months later, Brun is parlaying the event’s success to organize a network of conscientious musicians and artists willing to use their voices to promote a greener soundscape. Brun says that, after becoming aware of climate change issues, she decided she couldn’t make music only for her own artistic benefit. “I went into a grief period and came out feeling, ‘Oh shit! I have to do something. At least something, so that I can live with myself,’” she says. “You have to realize that it’s happening and deal with it, and I think that a lot of people don’t want to do that.” After digitally releasing her four previously-unavailable-in-the-States albums and supporting Peter Gabriel for a number of performances earlier this spring, Brun is prepping a new studio album with producer Tobias Fröberg, and recently chatted with Paste about the next No More Lullabies concert, the benefits and pitfalls of state-supported arts and being the Swedish Dolly Parton.
Paste: There’s been a lot of reference to Sweden and the Scandinavian region in general regarding the countries’ socialist leanings in the States’ universal health care debate. That conversation has been expanded to cover the arts, as Sweden’s government also sponsors music through the Swedish Arts Council. Juxtaposed with America, why do you think Scandinavian countries prioritize music as a national goal?
Ane Brun: It’s a matter of principle in a way of how a society’s built. For me, I haven’t lived in the States so much, so I don’t know how to compare, but we have this system of believing that we pay our taxes and we get something back. (Laughs) And also the meaning of versatile art, and how that is important to the society. That has been the politics in Sweden, and even if Sweden is changing these days with the new economy and everything. Filmmaker Roy Andersson got an award in Sweden and he said, which I think is really, really good to say, is that “Remember that all legends have, in almost every case, an underground in the beginning.” That the legends that we try to lift up in a country have always started out with nothing. The support that you give to them—to the fine arts or to the people that do new things—is what makes the big art, the great art, in the end. Because legends almost always do something new, you know?
I think Andersson said it really well because he’s a great character and he’s extremely celebrated in Sweden and we’re extremely proud of him, the same as [Ingmar] Bergman. What Bergman did was also quite controversial in the beginning, and now it’s national art. The opposition of the system that we have in Sweden is that people want the art to survive by itself—that it should be self-providing, that it should be so popular that it actually makes money out of its own existence. And the art that doesn’t survive should just die. And that means that a lot of modern art and classical music that’s weird would just disappear. I am very for supporting this because it makes a society more versatile and it’s important to comment on the society. It’s an important voice to see the inside from the outside. I hope that we will continue having this system. That’s actually a discussion right now in Sweden—the state granting money to artists. There’s so many difficult and big issues in the world, and art is maybe one of the ways that can translate it. It’s something that we can do.
Paste: In general, there seems to be a notable influx of Scandinavian artists coming to America to tour or release albums internationally. I don’t know if there’s a direct correlation between this discussion, but it’s definitely noticeable.
Brun: I think it’s also because of the internet. We’re more accessible now to the American audience. It’s becoming more natural that people search for Swedish music. It opens up so many doors. For a Swedish musician, that’s a dream to come true to play in New York. A lot of our idols in music come from [America]. It’s a natural magnetism.
Paste: It’s been roughly half a year since your No More Lullabies concert to raise awareness of climate change. In retrospect, how do you think the event faired? Did you accomplish what you planned?
Brun: Yeah. What we wanted to do with that concert was to get the press to write a lot about the concert and in that context, write about the Copenhagen meeting on the 24th of October, which was Climate Action Day. And we did. We had lots of press and it was great. The concert itself became a huge success. We played for seven hours and the performances of all of these wonderful Swedish artists were so memorable. The project itself is continuing because we’re trying to develop it into an artist network. We’re trying to find a space where we can talk about how artists and art can make a difference and we can be a change-maker in the way we make our art, discuss the role of an artist in society today. Somehow, at least where I come from, it’s a bit of a taboo for artists to comment too much on what’s going on. Maybe not a taboo, but in the popular “pop” world, people think it can be geeky to be political. And there are times in society when people ask artists for advice, because they tend to think in different ways. For me, it’s interesting to see and discuss how we can affect people. We are strong role models if we want to be. We’re doing another concert this summer as well. We’re also using this network to talk about cooperating in green touring and discussing social issues as well. It’s a good place to be, because as a pop artist you can feel like a child because when you do a job it’s just the music and nothing else. And I’m very hungry to have something else special in my life. It’s very nice to be able to do something that can make a change, a little bit more than making people feel music, maybe.
Paste: What can you tell us about this summer’s iteration of the concert?
Brun: We’re going to have one more show that is kind of similar to the one we had, where different artists play. The last time we had movies that were the message and the music was in between the message. This time it’s going to be poetry and prose in between music. It’s outdoors. The idea about it is to make people open their hearts to this issue, because it is a very difficult issue to take in. I had my awakening one and a half years ago about the environment and how everything is connected—the social issues, the growth of population, and the environment and the world and the water and all of that that’s really such a big issue. It’s a very heavy thing to grasp. It’s quite horrible, actually. I went into a grief period and came out feeling, “Oh shit! I have to do something. At least something, so that I can live with myself.” It’s almost like taking in a huge diagnosis of something horrible. You have to realize that it’s happening and deal with it, and I think that a lot of people don’t want to do that. So I think that maybe art can be a way in because words don’t always work. So I hope that it can make people think and make their own choices.
Paste: What artists do you have confirmed?
Brun: We have a few artists actually, mostly Swedish, Stockholm-based artists. The Tiny and me. Jennie Abrahamson. At the other gig we had the very big names, and this time we haven’t seen that as the most important issue. We’re trying to build a network of the artists that are really interested in being part of it.
Paste: You’re currently touring with Peter Gabriel. Your previous live shows have run the gamut from being very elaborate with string quartets to being very intimate, featuring you solo with an acoustic guitar. What approach are you taking with Gabriel?
Brun: I have a fantastic gig. I’m starting out with playing solo three songs in front of thousands of people, which is fantastic. And then the show starts, and I am then a singer in the orchestra and I do quite a few songs. And then by the end of the show I am a duet partner for Peter.
Paste: Your duet of “Don’t Give Up”?
Paste: It must be an interesting contrast to play solo before Gabriel. His performances are usually big and elaborate and noisy. He used to ride a Segway around the stage.
Brun: (Laughs) This tour is very different. He has a 50-piece symphonic orchestra. It’s much more serious, I think. It’s a different atmosphere—there’s no bicycles on stage. It’s a wonderful visual show to the music. It’s very powerful and very emotional. It’s a bit different than what people have seen before.
Paste: Tobias Fröberg is producing your next album. How’s that going?
Brun: I don’t know what to say yet because we haven’t really started doing it. I’ve worked with Tobias before on certain tracks and we had so much fun when we were working. We’re good friends. It’s going to be a very interesting process that I’m looking forward to. I think that’s the only thing I can say at the moment.
Paste: One thing I’m having a hard time understanding is your label of the “Swedish Dolly Parton.” This confuses me on two levels, as you were born in Norway and I don’t think you sound like Dolly Parton.
Brun: I see it as an honorable thing because I really like Dolly Parton and I love her voice. I think it’s the voice—that little vibrato going. So I think that people have heard a couple of my songs and this journalist or whomever made a comment about it after hearing a few of my countryish songs. I don’t mind it because I like her. She’s one of many references that I’ve had. I can be a mix of Dolly Parton and Billie Holiday, which I think is quite nice. (Laughs)
Paste: Looking over your timeline, you have to be extremely busy all of the time. You roughly release an album every year and helped co-found the music label that released your first LP. You also manage Balloon Ranger Recordings and the benefit concerts. How do you have the time to keep up with all of these demands?
Brun: Well, I have a manager who’s been a partner for many years now. He’s my label partner—he’s taken care of everything for me. He takes care of all of my business, so I don’t have to take care of the office work. The touring? Yeah. I’ve been touring a lot. But sometimes when I look at the American artists and how they tour, I feel like a rookie. They tour sometimes for 300 days a year and I’m like, “Oh shit! How can I do it?” It has been busy at times, but I feel that it has been worth it as well. It’s priorities, maybe.
Paste: It’s rare to find an American artist who releases an album every year, though.
Brun: Some of the albums that I have released have not been studio albums. It’s been a live album, or it’s been a duet album. Of course, there’s quite a bit of work around releasing an album anyway. But of those releases that I do, the ones that I do around the studio albums are because I really, really want people to hear them. It’s great, because you then go on tour and you have something new to show people. It’s very inspiring. It brings me forward and I really hate standing still in my music. I don’t want to be in the same place all the time. It freaks me out if I hear the songs in the same way for two year.